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Backpass: What we learned in our Open Cup match

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Some takes on the match against OKC Energy FC in the fourth round of #USOC2017 .

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-OKC Energy at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With a mostly reserve team playing a second-division team, it’s hard to draw any certain defining conclusion about the Rapids from this match. If the team dominates and destroys their opponent, like most MLS teams do at this stage, it can be chalked up to status: they’re supposed to win this match. If your MLS club sputters and fails, you can invariably use the dual excuses of a) we didn’t play our starters, or b) the coach and the team don’t place a high priority on winning Open Cup, and make have tinkered with the tactics as a result.

The Rapids aren’t in a good position to make the playoffs this year, and are virtually out-of-the-running for Supporters’ Shield, so Open Cup should, at least in my mind, have an elevated level of importance for 2017. Not only that, but this morning the round-of-16 pairings were unveiled, and the Rapids will be traveling to Frisco to meet FC Dallas. This pairing has a lot meaning because Oscar Pareja ditched Colorado to become their coach, and because the team-formerly-know-as-the-Burn burned the Rapids last year and drove them out of the 2016 edition of the USOC, and because a Dallas reserve player snapped poor Dillon Serna’s ACL on a dirty tackle from behind in the process. Colorado needs to progress in US Open Cup, and they need to exact revenge. Circle the evening of June 28 and block out the evening to watch this match.

Serna at left back didn’t really work for me

Dillon Serna got his first start in eons Tuesday, and it came at left back, a spot he had played with the USMNT U23s in Olympic qualifiers in 2015. Whether by design or by his own decision, Serna pressed very high and was effectively a second left midfielder against Oklahoma City. By my count from the Opta data he was 33/53 on passes, for a 62% percentage and 3/9 on crosses, including 1 key pass. So a mixed bag, but considering a first half plan of crossing balls into Alan Gordon, not terrible.

Defensively, he made a few recoveries, 1 tackle, 1 interceptions, 1 clearance, which indicates that defending was really not what he was into. Which is fine, except that he was listed as a defender. To my eye, Serna didn’t look committed to the role. Considering he hasn’t made the game day 18-man roster recently and has only 196 total minutes on the season, it bears scrutiny to start wondering whether Serna is in the team’s plans going forward, or if he’s out of favor and on the way out.

Depth is a problem

The Rapids started the bench and the reserves in this one, and with Kortne Ford and Axel Sjoberg nursing injuries, they still needed to swing fullback Eric Miller into central defense (where he looked great and scored a volleyed goal to knot the game up at 2-2). Dennis Castillo had flashes, but also got skinned on OKC’s first goal and made a couple of other mistakes.

If Tuesday was another audition to see if he’s ready to come back from his USL loan to Charlotte, my sense is that the answer is: no. I was also excited to see Ricardo Perez and Sam Hamilton get the nod to start. Sam played well, although he was caught out on the second OKC goal. Jared Watts - making a cameo in central midfield - was REALLY the culprit on that goal, but if the defensive midfield are responsible for closing down the midfield in the final third, Sam gets a degree of culpability too for that one. Perez was a useful cog as something of a midfield shuttler/connector, but didn’t make an impression in this one. That’s too bad - I saw sparks preseason in him that excited me, but it seems like he’s not ready for prime time. Gatt had a pair of exciting runs through the defense.

Gordon couldn’t get on top of the crosses provided to him, which is probably not his fault. He did head the second goal to Miller for an assist, but one could argue that he was trying to score it himself and was saved by Miller’s being in the right place at the right time. Overall, the team look appreciably more dynamic when Gordon was subbed off for Kevin Doyle in the 67th minute.

But in summary, the test Tuesday was ‘is our second team as good as a mediocre* USL team’? The answer is a resounding no. Which means the team is two or three injuries away from being terrible. That fate came a little closer when Bobby Burling limped off in the 44th minute with a foot injury. He’ll be out four to six weeks. The Rapids current roster of healthy center backs includes Jared Watts, Mike da Fonte, and ... nope, just Watts and da Fonte. Yikes.

Powers?

Powers played as attacking midfielder in the first half, which didn’t really work as the team went behind 2-0. Is that his fault? Some what. OKC was super tightly spaced in the first half and gave little or breathing space for the offense to function centrally, so the team went to the wings, and Powers wasn’t primarily involved. However, defensively, Powers didn’t have the speed or positioning to get back and prevent those other two goals. In the second half, he was the man on the corner for the second AND third goals, and also looked good when he was pushed back to operate as the second d-mid.

TL;DR, Hey Pablo, Powers is a box-to-box sub when Mohammed Saeid or Shkelzen Gashi tire, and if you’re going to play a 4-2-3-1 and want a regista to make the long pass after Micheal Azira or Nana Boateng win you back the ball, he’s your guy. Do anything else with Dillon P, and it’s a waste.

There’s no great revelation here: I’ve said all of this about Powers before. But it’s worth re-analyzing every few months in case we’re trying to determine what happens next with him.

Fun Side Note

OKC midfielder Chad Bond of Wales is 30 years old and started against Colorado, and he put in a fine shift. Bond has played for sixteen football clubs in a 14-year career that has so far taken him to Wales, England, Sweden, Spain, California, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Think about that next time you’re packing boxes at your apartment for your next move.

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Meanwhile, FC Dallas started three teenagers along with midfield maestro Mauro Diaz, MLS best XI center back Matt Hedges and ageless assist machine Javier Morales, and got a 2-1 win over Tulsa. Dallas took the match a little more seriously AND had greater depth to play with than Colorado, which is worrying. We’ll see what Pablo thinks of the Open Cup based on who plays on June 28. If he’s committed to giving the reserves another run out in two weeks, you can paint me pessimistic on our chances.

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* OKC are 4-2-5 (WTL) and sit 12th in the USL Western Conference standings,